ACSS Policy Monitor – February 2012

The SRA is now a member of the Academy of Social Sciences, so we have access to the monthly Policy Monitor. Read the latest one here.

Academy for Social Research – Policy Monitor February 2012


SRA Conference: Putting Social Research in the Spotlight

This year’s SRA conference drew together the UK’s leading practitioners across a range of methodologies and approaches, both familiar and new. While Jude England reminded us that research conducted even thirty years ago was still very relevant today, other contributors demonstrated that today’s research thinking was fresh and vital as ever.

The challenge of claiming causality was the focus of a discussion led by Professor Patrick Sturgis (National Centre for Research Methods), asking us to consider ways in which researchers could go beyond correlations and make causal inferences from data. Using natural experiments and working with economists were some of his suggestions.

William O’Connor (NatCen) presented an optimistic picture for qualitative research, with many projects still standing despite the cuts, and exciting opportunities offered by neuroscience, ethnography, gamification and online reporting. In his view, the old tools were still good ones, but today’s toolkit was both bigger and bolder.

Darren Bhattachary (BMRB) gave us a whistle-stop tour of the complex area of behaviour change research. This was a world which was moving from straightforward qualitative research to experimental design and evaluation. Lorraine Dearden (IFS) also explained the pleasures and pains of evaluation, and, rounding off the day, Debrah Harding (MRS) and David Johnson (HM Treasury) told us what we needed to know about new directions in research commissioning.

Inspiring, confident and engaging throughout, this year’s conference drew together the best of the year.
Review by Isabella Pereira

London evening seminar – ‘Understanding the social impacts of policy and their effects on wellbeing’

The SRA brings you a monthly series of relaxed and informal evening seminars, hosted by the Department for Education at Sanctuary Buildings, Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BT. Seminars are from 5pm – 6.30pm.

Our series continues on Tuesday 29 November, when Dr Gemma Harper, Chief Social Researcher, DEFRA will be talking on:

“Understanding the social impacts of policy and their effects on wellbeing”

The Prime Minister and Government have emphasised the importance of social impacts and wellbeing. For example, The Prime Minister has emphasised the importance of the new independent measures of wellbeing that ONS is developing, and the importance of understanding how all policies contribute to creating social value. His view is that taken together, initiatives such as these ‘may be the most quietly radical things this government is doing’.

The Green Book highlights the importance of trying to identify all costs and benefits in appraisal. While there is a focus on presenting these impacts in monetary terms, the Green Book recognises that this may not always be appropriate or feasible and highlights the importance of using non-monetary evidence approaches alongside economic valuation approaches. However, there is little detailed guidance on appropriate approaches for integrating non-monetary evidence in different contexts.

Where monetisation is possible, at least to some degree, significant uncertainty may remain. Uncertainty may be inevitable due to the nature of the impacts (eg climate change impacts), or may result from difficulty in designing research methods and instruments that enable impacts to be identified and monetised with confidence. In these cases, non-monetary evidence can complement monetary approaches, to give a broader, more comprehensive valuation.

The seminars begins at 5pm and runs till 6.30pm. Please arrive in time to clear DFE security. Places are limited and we need to know who will be attending and give names to DFE in advance.

Book your place

To book a place on this seminar, please email (or use our temporary email address, stating ‘29 November seminar‘ in the subject line.

UK Church Statistics

‘UK Church Statistics’ is produced and edited by SRA member Peter Brierley.

The book is a fresh compilation of the number of members, churches and ministers in the many denominations in the UK, with summary tables, explanatory articles and other data.

Published in June, it is already being reprinted. For more details and an order form, email

Solid Foundations or Shifting Sands: Evidence of building a Big Society

This year’s SRA Summer Event took place last week, kindly hosted by the Local Government Association and sponsored by IFF Research Ltd. The event was chaired by Professor Gerry Stoker (University of Southampton), who introduced the speakers as well as reflecting on the presentations and presiding over the panel session.

Contributors included:

  • Anna Coote (new economics foundation) who opened the event with the question – ‘can the Big Society be a force for good?’
  • Professor John Mohan (Third Sector Research Centre) who highlighted findings from the Centre’s volunteering research programme revealing how some areas of the country are ‘charity deserts’.
  • Gareth Morrell (NatCen) and Anna Pierce (IpsosMori) who provided analyses drawn from a range of social surveys and qualitative research about general public awareness and understanding of the Big Society and motivations for public involvement; and
  • Gill Bull (London Borough of Sutton) who highlighted what Sutton is doing at the forefront of making Big Society a reality, and the role of research in this process.

Many of the presenters identified important research questions that should be addressed in coming years. You can find all the presentations on the SRA website  and further coverage of the event on the MRS website. A full SRA write up will be included in the next SRA News.

ESRC administrative data conference

Calling all researchers and students…

The ESRC’s Administrative Data Liaison Service will be holding a one-day conference to highlight the power of administrative data using examples of current or completed research. The event will also provide an opportunity to explore the future for administrative data as a research resource, including new and developing mechanisms for accessing data. It’s a not-for-profit events and the organisers hope to raise awareness of the potential for administrative data in social science research.

Date: Monday the 11th July 2011
Time: 10.00 – 17.00 (registration from 09.30)
Venue: Royal Statistical Society, 12 Errol Street, London EC1Y 8LX
Price: £25 – £45 (including lunch)

Speakers and talks

Innovative research using administrative data
Professor Mike Brewer, University of Essex – Starting school and leaving welfare: the impact of public education on lone parents’ welfare receipt.
David McLennan, University of Oxford – Understanding the dynamics and characteristics of deprived neighbourhoods.
Professor Simon Burgess, University of Bristol – What parents want: an analysis of school preferences in England.

Innovative methods using administrative data
Professor Nicky Best, Imperial College – From health to politics: case studies in combining survey and administrative data to reduce biases in observational studies.
Ian McGregor, Office for National Statistics – How ONS has used administrative data sources to produce new local authority immigration estimates.
Dr Ruth King, University of St Andrews – (Bayesian) Capture-recapture techniques for estimating hidden population sizes using administrative data lists.

New mechanisms for accessing administrative data
Karen Dennison, Secure Data Service – The Secure Data Service.
Mike Hawkins, HM Revenue and Customs – The HMRC Datalab.

The future for administrative data in research
Dr Kieron O’Hara, University of Southampton – Privacy, deanonymisation and transparency: a review for the Cabinet Office.
Dr Chris Dibben, University of St Andrews – Looking to the future: the challenges and potential of administrative data.

Book your place by 8 July.

For secure credit card bookings please visit the University of St Andrew’s online shop.

For purchase order and discounted rates for group bookings, please contact the ADLS on 01334 463901 or email

Find out more about the conference here or visit the ADLS website.

Families, Relationships and Societies

The Policy Press, a not-for-profit social science publisher based at the University of Bristol, UK, is launching a new journal next year, called Families, Relationships & Societies.

It will be the first European international journal to link research, policy and practice, bringing together contributions that enable a new exchange of ideas, and providing a much-needed forum for debate based on excellent scholarly work alongside policy and practice critiques.

Find out more about the journal.